The “horrendous” conditions facing rescue teams hunting for a missing holidaymaker during the early hours of New Year’s Day have been described for the first time.
Harry Swordy, named on an online blog by friend Tom Luddington, is thought to have been swept from his feet as he paddled in the sea at Loe Bar at around 1am.
He was one of a group of about 16 staying in the Bunkhouse on the National Trust’s Penrose Estate, near Porthleven.
Others in the sea were able to make their way back to shore, but Mr Swordy was lost.
His body washed up on Porthleven Beach on January 2.
Mr Swordy’s death came despite the unstinting efforts of emergency services, which launched an immediate search that continued throughout the day and had been due resume the following morning.
Around 20 men from Mullion, Porthleven, Porthoustock and Penzance coastguard rescue teams spent the first hours of 2014 hunting the treacherous coastline around Loe Bar.
Joined by the lifeboat crews from the Lizard and Penlee stations, plus a 771 search and rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose, the coastguards spent the hours between 1am and 4.30am putting their own lives at risk in an attempt to find the 27-year-old man – despite 80mph winds and waves of up to 16ft.
Stephen Pollard, station officer for Mullion and the Lizard coastguards, said: “It was horrendous. The waves and the water were nearly running off the bar into the pool, it was that bad.
“The noise of the sea hitting the beach was just like thunder. It was scary. There’s nothing worse than crashing waves beating the shingle – it’s deafening.”
He said the coastguards did not consider their own lives to be under threat as they searched to save the lives of another, stressing: “We’re safety conscious. We were all wearing lifejackets.
“We just had to be sensible about it. We went as far as we could possibly go in the realms of safety.”
The coastguard teams’ role was to search the coastline to see if the man had washed up and check the water to see if he could be seen.
Meanwhile the helicopter hovered overhead and the lifeboat crews searched the water – although both found it difficult to reach the scene due to the ferocity of the conditions.
The coastguards also initially struggled to get full team numbers, due to it being New Year’s Eve. This meant that many people had already drunk alcohol by the time the call came in, preventing them from driving and also from being at peak fitness.
The search was stood down at 4.30pm, resuming at first light with a full complement of around 30 coastguards at 7am and searching until dark.
Mr Pollard paid tribute to the emergency services, saying: “I take my hat off to the lifeboat boys and 771 squadron. How they did what they did that night, hovering 20ft above the waves with the wind – it was tremendous. I take my hat off to all of them.”
He added that he was also proud of all the coastguards, adding: “Everybody performed to their best, they really did.”
Helston’s police officers were also drafted in, to provide support to the friends and family members back on shore.
Alistair Cameron, of the National Trust, said warning signs were posted along the beach, as well as within cottages on the estate, of the dangers of entering the sea at Loe Bar. Public rescue equipment, maintained by the NT, is provided on the on the beach.
He said: “Our thoughts are with the gentleman’s family during this difficult time.”
The holidaymaker who lost his life after being swept into the sea at Loe Bar early on New Year’s Day has been described as “an amazing character.”
Tributes have been paid to Harry Swordy by friend Tom Luddington on his blog.
Mr Luddington said: “Harry was such an amazing character, so full of life, warmth and plans for the future. He will be so missed.”
His friends are calling on the Met Office to rename the storm, named by the US media as Hercules, as “Storm Harry” in memory of Mr Swordy.
The campaign has already attracted a large following on Twitter, using the hashtag #stormharry “It feels right that a legend begin about wonderful Harry, that he danced up the biggest storm ever, barefoot in the sea,” added Mr Luddington.
He said Mr Swordy was a professional storyteller whose tales were “full of beauty, wonder”, “clever and moving.”
Mr Luddington described it as “devastating news”, adding that Mr Swordy had been with his sister and friends celebrating New Year’s Eve on the beach.
“Some of the others were also taken by the wave, but thankfully managed to get ashore.
“I have read that waves at this spot come unannounced out of deep water, and that the steep pea gravel shore makes it really hard to get out of the sea once you're in, even on small days. There was no moon light to help search, and despite the coastguards best efforts, the fierce winds and sea state picked up, meaning that looking for Harry became nearly impossible.
“Conditions became so bad that the search was called off, before being taken up again first light.
“A day later, after praying hard for a miracle, we received really bad news – Harry had been found, but his life had been taken by the sea,” added Mr Luddington.